Astronauts and cosmonauts have been experiencing the so-called spatial disorientation problems. They are having difficulty getting a sense of orientation or identifying the difference between what might be considered there as 'up' or 'down.'

According to Universe Today, this occurrence is called "Visual Reorientation Illusions," or VRIs where the floors, ceiling, and walls of spacecraft can instantaneously exchange individual identities.

An extreme instance of such an occurrence in space took place, the said report indicates, when a shuttle astronaut reported he felt like the room "was rotating around him when he opened his eyes one morning."

Other astronauts have also reported briefly, they did not know where they were while on a spacewalk. Typically, here on earth, we know which way is up or down as our body's vestibular system is keeping our brains informed.

Essentially, sensors in our inner ear are sensing the pull of gravity, and they then signal our brain with information about the orientation of our body.

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Science Times - There’s No ‘Up’ or ‘Down’ Direction in Space, Here’s What Researchers Tell Us About How Our Brains Should Deal with It
(Photo: NASA on Wikimedia Commons)
Astronauts and cosmonauts have been experiencing spatial disorientation problems, where they are having difficulty to get a sense of orientation or identify the difference between what might be considered there as ‘up’ or ‘down.’

Interpretation of the Direction of Gravity

In new research, authors at York University's Center for Vision Research discovered that the interpretation of an individual of the gravity's direction could be changed by how their brain is responding to visual information.

Nevertheless, what seems to be "up" may, in fact, be some other direction, according to the manner the brains are processing humans' orientation.

Furthermore, the study authors also found that people differ in how much their graphic environment impacts them.

The explained their study result could help understand how humans are using visual information to interpret their environment, not to mention how they are responding when performing other tasks.

Such finding may help them understand further and predict why astronauts may miscalculate how far they have moved at any given situation, specifically in space's microgravity, the study's lead author, Professor Laurence Harris, explained.

Use of Virtual Reality Headsets

For this particular research, the study investigators had the participants use virtual reality headsets, then lie down in what was described as a virtual environment. They put a title on to make the graphic "up" on top of their head and not aligned with gravity.

The study investigators varied the visual orientation cues' strength, utilizing an oriented corridor and a starfield while varying too, "heads-on-trunk orientation," not to mention body posture.

As specified in the study, participants saw similar scenes and physical orientation hints, although their reactions were not the same.

In this work, the authors discovered the participants could be split into two groups: one that perceived they were standing up, aligned with the visual scene, vertically, although they were, in reality, lying down; and another group who were able to maintain a more realistic notion of their lying position.

Essentially, in space, astronauts are dependent on certain tricks and approaches to establishing "a common sense of direction."

Onboard the International Space Station or ISS, all modules comprise consistent "up" orientation. The writing on walls is pointing in the same direction, and computers have been oriented to match the similar direction.

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